Lamassu is an Neo-Assyrian Akkadian term used to designate a composite creature, conceived of as a winged lion- or bull-figure with a human head. As protective deities or genii, larger than life-size statue-blocks of lamassi (pl.) were placed on either side of late Assyrian palace doorways and entrances in order to guard against the entry of evil and chaotic forces. As such, they are characteristic of this late phase in the development of Assyrian art (Neo- or Late Assyrian) when sculpture in the round was otherwise rare, compared to earlier periods.
Lamassi in sculptural form are usually depicted as “double-aspect” figures, apparently possessing five (5) separate legs (when viewed from an oblique angle). This allows for two simultaneous depictions:
1. standing guard, when viewed from the front;
2. striding forward, when viewed from the side.
The hybrid or composite iconography is powerfully evocative of strength (body of lion bull), speed (an eagle’s wings) and intelligence (human head). Each monolithic colussus was carved partly in relief and partly in the round from a single block of stone, measuring up to 5.50 m2 in size. Initially carved roughly in the quarry, each statue-block was transported to its final location (often by river), where it would be set in place and be subjected to fine carving.
The Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art covers both a lengthy chronological span and a vast geographical area. The collection of more than seven thousand works of art ranges in date from 8000 B.C. (the Neolithic period) to the Arab conquest and rise of Islam beginning in A.D. 651. The works come from ancient Mesopotamia, Iran, Syria, Anatolia, and other lands in the region that extends from the Black and Caspian Seas in the north to the southwestern Arabian peninsula, and from western Turkey on the Mediterranean Sea to the Indus River Valley in modern-day Pakistan and India. Societies throughout the ancient Near East mai


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